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The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston

The Little Colonel (1895)

by Annie Fellows Johnston

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Little Colonel (1)

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1023171,038 (3.35)7



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Racist, twee, and saccharin-sticky. From the opening scene with the "trawbewwies" right up to the end it was torture of the most sentimental sort. I couldn't stop, it was such a twain weck! ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Originally published in 1895, The Little Colonel was the first of an extended series of children's novels that chronicle the adventures of young Lloyd Sherman - nicknamed "the Little Colonel" because her fiery temperament and stubborn disposition call to mind similar qualities in her estranged grandfather, a former colonel in the Confederate army - and her friends. In this opening volume of the series, the five-year-old Little Colonel meets her grandfather for the first time, and, despite the tensions existing between him and her parents - Colonel Lloyd, having lost his only son, Tom, as well as his arm, in the recent Civil War, had no use for Yankees, and had disowned his only daughter Elizabeth (Lloyd's mother), when she married Jack Sherman of New York - forms a bond of deep affection with him. Will the Little Colonel's love be enough to conquer his pride, however, and reconcile him to his daughter and son-in-law...?

This being a sentimental novel of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, there is never much doubt as to the conclusion of the tale, but the process by which that conclusion is reached is not without its charm. Colonel Lloyd is (with a few exceptions) an engaging character despite his flaws, and the Little Colonel is endearing. I did wonder a bit at the author's decision to make her speech so decidedly southern, when (according to the story) she had been raised in New York, and had only come to Lloydsborough some short time before the opening of the story, but leaving that issue aside, her characterization - her penchant for story-telling (and evident fondness for The Three Billy Goats Gruff), her knack for making friends with all and sundry, her passionate temper - was well done. The conclusion itself, while easy enough to predict, is a satisfying affirmation of family love and reconciliation, as well as an oblique portrait of rapprochement between North and South, so recently divided by that bitterest of struggles, the American Civil War.

Read a certain way, The Little Colonel is really a most engaging book, making it easy to see why it (not to mention its many sequels) was so very popular in the early years of the twentieth century. There was even a Shirley Temple film made from it, in 1935. Of course, that "certain way" of reading involves turning a blind eye to the thoroughly racist depictions of all the black characters, who are happily subservient, stupidly superstitious (as witnessed by Mom Beck's conviction that Papa Jack is doomed to die, because of the "signs" she has seen), and speak in the sort of broken dialect often reserved for them in children's stories of the period. It also requires ignoring the frequent occurrence of such racial epithets as "pickaninnies," "darkies," and (to a lesser extent) "n*ggers" in the text.

That such is the way some would like to read the book can be seen by their emphatically (and defensively) glowing reviews, in which they insist either that the book is not racist, or that its racism cannot be held against it, because it was "of the times." I am amused to note that www.littlecolonel.com, a most informative website devoted to Johnston's books, claims that her work has fallen out of favor because contemporary readers don't value "romantic and sentimental wholesomeness" any more, but makes no mention of this other, far more significant objection that said readers might have, or that Johnston's fall from popularity might reflect the (thankfully!) changing racial dynamics of American society.

What then is the contemporary reader, the one who does value the "romantic and sentimental" (yes, yes, I admit it!), but who loathes racism, to do? Should books like The Little Colonel still be read, and by whom? As someone with an interest in the history of American children's books, as well as (more recently) the school-story genre, this is a title I've been meaning to pick up. After all, the Little Colonel series was once immensely popular, and it also includes an example of the school story, in The Little Colonel at Boarding-School. It documents, not necessarily a moment in American history, but a perception of that moment. Or put another way, it helped to create the perception of that moment, and seems to have been part of a new kind of romanticism about the south. All factors that give it great interest for me, as someone with a more academic interest in children's literature, and its social significance. It is also, despite its objectionable content, quite readable (hence the three stars, rather than two, although I'm still debating that point).

I think that this is a book I would recommend to older readers who are interested in the history of American children's literature, in vintage American children's series, or in the depiction of the post Civil War South (and specifically, Kentucky) in said literature and series. I don't know that I would recommend it to young readers, and am thankful that I didn't encounter it as a young person myself. Still, I'm glad to have read it at this point, as I do find it utterly fascinating, and I think I will probably read further in the series. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Mar 31, 2013 |
Very cute. Of course I was seeing Shirley Temple throughout, but it might have been written for her - spunky, singing baby (the Little Colonel turns 6 in the course of the story). I really should see the movie and sees if it matches. Anyway. Cute story, reasonably restrained racism (which is about all you could expect from a book written in that time), nice moral that isn't _too_ thumpy-about-the-ears. I was delighted to realize there's a whole series of Little Colonel books, as she grows up. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Oct 18, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Annie Fellows Johnstonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brett, Harold MatthewsIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
A spunky little girl who lives on her grandfather's farm in Kentucky reunites a fragmented family after the Civil War.

Available online at The Hathi Trust:

Also available at The Internet Archive:

Also available at Project Gutenberg:
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0882890506, Hardcover)

Classic children's book by the American author, most well-known for the Little Colonel series, the first book of which was made into a 1935 movie starring Shirley Temple, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Lionel Barrymore. Johnston based her characters on friends and family, many of whom appear in several different series. Her semi-biographical characters include The Old Colonel, Mom Beck, Papa Jack, Mrs Sherman, Aunt Allison, and the Waltons.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:33 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An old Southern family is torn apart by tragedy when the Old Colonel disowns his beloved daughter for marrying a Yankee. Hard times have befallen her, but she would rather die than go to him for help. Then one day, by accident, the Old Colonel meets a little girl who is called the "Little Colonel," because she has temper tantrums-just like him. It is indeed his granddaughter, and slowly a bond grows between them. Can the love of a little girl mend the powerful hatred that has rent the family in two?… (more)

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